Term limits ruling hits races differently

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Secretary of State Ross Miller, left, discusses the Nevada Supreme Court's decision to bar a number of candidates from seeking re-election following a 1996 term-limits law.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Secretary of State Ross Miller, left, discusses the Nevada Supreme Court's decision to bar a number of candidates from seeking re-election following a 1996 term-limits law.

While the Supreme Court's term limits ruling clearly spells out who can and can't run this year, it impacts every race differently and raises several additional questions.

Secretary of State Ross Miller said he and the county clerks are working to get notices posted by this morning when early voting opens so that voters will know which candidates in their area are barred from winning another term in office.

That won't be necessary in Carson City, where John McKenna withdrew from his school board race after his candidacy was challenged. But it will in Douglas County, where four candidates were made ineligible to run by Friday's opinion.

Miller said Friday there will be confusion because, despite those notices, candidates removed by the court decision will actually still be on the ballot and votes cast for them will be counted.

And that creates several possible scenarios, according to Miller.

If longtime Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury wins his primary against two opponents despite the ruling, Miller said state law directs the county political party " Republican in Woodbury's case " name a candidate to face Steve Sisolak in the November election.

He said if voters don't like either of the other candidates, they could vote for Woodbury and turn the selection over to the party.

Regent Howard Rosenberg has two opponents so, according to a brief issued by Miller's office: "In the event that Mr. Rosenberg wins or finishes second in his primary, the remaining candidate would proceed to the general election."

Regent Thalia Dondero has no opposition so, even if she gets one vote, she wins. But she can't be on the November ballot, which means the governor will appoint a regent to fill her southern Nevada seat. The appointee would serve two years until the next general election in 2010.

Asked whether Gov. Jim Gibbons could appoint Dondero anyway, Miller said the answer isn't clear because the term limits language in Nevada's constitution says no person "can be elected" to serve more than 12 years in an office.

"That legal argument has been presented to our office," he said. "It says no person can be elected to a term of service longer than 12 years. It doesn't say no person can be appointed."

Miller said he was pleased the high court unanimously supported the interpretation of the term limits language by his office and the attorney general.

And he said he agrees with the Supreme Court ruling that members of the Legislature first elected in 1996 or before aren't termed out until the 2010 elections.

"It's pretty clear legislators take office a day after they're elected," he said.

The court ruled that since term limits didn't take effect until three weeks after that 1996 election, it doesn't count toward the 12 year limit in any one office.

Miller said he was also grateful the court was able to resolve the issues before early voting began. And he said the ruling "clearly upholds the will of the people."

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.

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